As the election draws closer, the inevitable cries of fraud and vote buying are being raised. Early voting has opened in Florida and other states, and the process is being watched closely. Despite all that we’ve heard on this, however, vote buying and fraud is almost certainly a big industry in some parts of the nation, particularly Florida – just not in the form people are talking about.
In early 1993, the Sunday magazine of the Miami Herald, Tropic, ran a shocking story. Unfortunately, I cannot produce a free link to this story so you’ll have to stay with me on this. A reporter was a part of the campaign on Consuela “Conchy” Bretos as she ran for Dade County Commissioner against Bruce Kaplan. Conchy Bretos was well known in the Cuban community and came over as a child on Operacîon Pedro Pan, a Catholic Church arranged way for parents to send their children out of Cuba to grow up in freedom in the US.
If you think you know where this is going, you’re not from Miami. Kaplan was the Republican, and as such plugged into the Cuban press machine. Bretos was declared to be a communist agent of Castro in Spanish and an anti-Semite in English. No one connected the two because you’d have to absorb the media in Spanish and English to do it. But the article in the Herald had even darker stuff.
Bretos’ manager was upset because Kaplan was buying votes. Owners of group homes got their residents to fill out absentee ballot requests, then kept the ballots when the arrive. The residents got fakes to fill out and believed they voted. The collected absentee ballots were then sold, one race at a time, for what was estimated at up to $10 each. The County Commission seat was, of course, only one race on the ballot, so you can imagine what the owner of a large home took this way.
In this Herald article, the Bretos campaign was furious that this was allowed to go on. But they also knew they were losing. Bretos’ manager wanted her to buy her share of them, but she refused. Finally, just weeks before the election, Conchy Bretos got so mad at the attacks on her she gave the go ahead to buy whatever votes they could. The reporter for the Miami Herald was in the room at the time she said this.
How do I remember this so well after 15 years? Partly because it’s shocking. Partly because the New Times, a free weekly, has a deep archive that allows some cross-checks (such as the fact that 25% of Kaplan’s total vote was indeed absentee). Partly because Kaplan was a partner in the law firm my Mom worked for.
But the real reason I remember this is that it explains things very well.
Nothing was ever done about the open fraud, despite appearing in the Herald’s Tropic magazine. Kaplan won, and eventually pleaded no contest to a campaign finance charge. It seemed as though it would all go on as always, the Banana Republic of Dade County.
For the election of 2000, I went to a party at Station 4 for my friend, John Birrenbach. He was running for State Rep on the Reform Party Ticket in a heavily DFL (Demoractic-Farmer-Labor Party) district. We knew he’d lose, but we knew he’d have a great party. As the news of the election came over the teevees, I had a realization. It was coming down to Florida. Florida would pick the next President. It would almost certainly be corrupt. What could I do?
I did the only thing that came naturally. I threw up.
In the end, Gore’s team waited a few days before deciding how to proceed, and then chose to ask for a recount in just a few counties – not statewide. That created a problem when Bush v. Gore got to the Supreme Court, which was concerned about equal protection if there was no statewide entity watching everything. So it was decided that it was over, and Bush was the winner.
Why didn’t Gore ask for a statewide recount? My gut tells me that his people on the ground told him not to do it. I can imagine that they didn’t want anyone looking long and hard at Dade County, since both sides are dirty. I doubt Gore was plugged into this beforehand, but when he was confronted with it he did what he knew he had to – take one for the good of the nation. After all, the odds were very good that if he contested it we’d never figure out which votes were crooked, and thus never know who should be President.
Selling votes is probably still a decent sized industry in Dade County and other places as well. Both sides do it, although the Republicans may have an advantage in the Dade County process. It’s both simple and shameful enough to maintain a shroud of secrecy that makes everyone on the losing side feel they need to take one for the team.
Wouldn’t you rather that they took one for justice instead?